Books on the world championship matches used to appear regularly, with some having multiple written accounts. In recent years, though, these have declined, not least because of the decision by Fidé, the World Chess Federation, to keep reducing the length of the matches.
When Labourdonnais and Macdonnell clashed in London in a series of contests during 1834, the total number of games played was 85. This was the first competition which (although it took place over a series of smaller consecutive events) might be regarded as the inaugural chess match to pitch the two acknowledged frontrunners of the day against one another.
The longest world championship match to take place since then was the first meeting between Karpov and Kasparov, in 1984/1985, which extended to 48 games. The norm from 1951 onwards had been 24 games, but this has now dwindled to 12. This is one reason why match books have become less popular, since of those 12, a portion tend to be colourless draws. The saving grace is the rapid play-off over four games which comes into force if the main event ends in a tie.
This week’s extract of play is taken from a new book on the championship between Magnus Carlsen and Sergei Karjakin from New York last year. The initial 12 games concluded with honours even, but the world champion went on to triumph 3-1 in the play-off. What follows was the first crack in Karjakin’s armour in the shoot-out games.
Notes are based on those from Carlsen vs Karjakin World Chess Championship New York 2016 by grandmaster Lev Alburt and national master Jon Crumiller, published by the Chess Information and Research Center, New York. The former world champion Vladimir Kramnik also provides sketches of the key moments of each game.
30 ... e4 The text-move that may not alter the objective dynamic equality assessment of the position, but who has time for objectivity? Black’s pawn sacrifice and ensuing activity are very hard to meet over-the-board. After the exchange of bishops, the queen will take its place on e5, controlling the long diagonal and threatening to infiltrate White’s position. 31 dxe4 Bxc3 32 Rxc3 Qe5 33 Rc1 Ra8 This position looks bad for White but in fact it is far from over. 34 h3 h6 35 Kh2 Qd4 36 Qe1 Karjakin’s problems multiply as he takes a passive stance and misses the opportunity to play 36 e5! Qxe5 37 Bd3 when the long bl-h7 diagonal swiftly provides counterplay via White’s queen and bishop tandem. Black should proceed with 37 ... Qe7 38 Kg1 (to play Bd3-bl without facing ... Ng4+ followed by ... Qxe2) 38 ... Kg8 39 Bbl Kf8 40 Qb2 and the chances are equal. 36 ... Qb2 37 Bf1 White moves closer to the point of no return. It was essential to play 37 Be2 Ra2 38 e5! and after 38 ... Qxe2 39 Qxe2 Rxe2 40 b6! Nxd5 41 bxc7 Nxc7 42 exd6 Ne6 43 Rc8+ Kh7 44 Re8 the game will be drawn as the passed pawn will cost Black his knight. 37 ... Ra2 38 Rxc7 White’s last chance was 38 Rb1. 38 ... Ra1 White resigns